World, Sport

Ryder Cup: What makes American golf fans so distinctly unlikeable?

By Antoinette Muller 4 October 2016

Anyone who has any sort of in-stadium sport watching experience will know that the majority of people who watch sport live aren’t exactly known for their wit and often care not who they offend with their shouting. Yet, American golf fans draw more ire out of sport watchers than anyone else. Why? By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

If you had been in close proximity (even on social media) to anyone watching the Ryder Cup this past weekend, you’d have learnt two things: golf can be exciting and American golf fans are awful. The phenomenon of American golf fans shouting mundane things and chanting “USA, USA, USA” isn’t exactly new, but it seems to become louder and more irksome every time there is a tournament in America.

Pete Willett, brother of Masters winner Danny Willett, wrote a scathing column about the American fans’ behaviour in the lead up to the Ryder Cup. He called them “pudgy, basement-dwelling irritants, stuffed on cookie dough and pissy beer” who pause “between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream ‘Baba booey’ until their jelly faces turn red”.

And then went further, calling them “the angry, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm, desperately gripping their concealed-carry compensators and belting out a mini-erection inducing ‘mashed potato’, hoping to impress their cousin”.

For good measure, he added that they are “obnoxious dads, with their shiny teeth, Lego man hair, medicated ex-wives, and resentful children. Squeezed into their cargo”.

Naturally, this caused much outrage and poor Danny had to apologise embarrassingly for his brother expressing such a strong opinion.

Many similar opinions were shared across social media and in columns, with one American writer asking that somebody please thinks of the children who will be confronted with “adults engaged in new-age ‘audience participation’ — acting like rude, loud, mob-mentality pigs” if their parents decide to take them to a golf match.

This sort of thing will never happen at Augusta or anywhere in Europe, social media tutted throughout the weekend.

If you are not familiar with golf fans and their rituals, you might think that the Americans are guilty if shouting lewd, offensive obscenities while somebody is trying to play a stroke. Yet, their sins are so much more passive than that. The only thing the American fans are really guilty of is being distinctly mundane in their completely unrelated utterings.

But here’s the thing. American golf fans aren’t the only ones shouting boring things at a sporting event. Any regular visitor to Newlands or anywhere Yorkshire plays cricket will be familiar with the drawl of “Proooovince” or “Yooooorkshire” ringing out. It’s less annoying than a short and persistent chant of “USA, USA, USA”, but it’s no less boring. Even a trip to a junior rugby fixture is likely to bring with it “mooi” or “lekker”.

Arsenal fans once taunted their former player Emmanual Adebayor with “when they were shooting, it should have been you” – a reference to the Togolese team bus being attacked by terrorists. In fact, football fans are notorious for homophobic, sexist and offensive chants that can be heard on terraces across England.

And even cricket fans get in on the act. Once, during an Australian cricket team’s tour to the country, the five people who spent all day at the Wanderers watching the rain made their presence known by piping up with “Siddle is a wanker” every now and then.

Let’s not kid ourselves: sports fans have a penchant for the mundane, ridiculous and sometimes offensive. When their vocal chords are lubricated with alcohol, this is enhanced and even encouraged by fellow booze-lubricated sport watchers.

Yet, it is only American golf fans who draw such severe dislike from all corners of the world – including from people in America.

Why?

Greg Wilmot, a sports psychologist at the Health & Sport Centre in Grahamstown, has one theory. Drawing on the fact that sports people become extensions of partisan and national pride, he tells the Daily Maverick: “American sport has a very physical, verbose and even macho element to how it is played and celebrated by players and fans alike.

American Football players rely a huge amount on collective reassurance through cheering, butt-smacking, hyperbolic actions and chest-pumping. Bigger, better and louder will inspire greatness and even, if at all possible, influence the outcome of the game / match. Further, perhaps vocal support for your team or player might ‘out-psych’ the other team and inspire greatness in your own team?

Why does it grate other fans then? In the context of golf as a ‘culture’, such enthusiastic support is somewhat deviant. I’m sure the past chairmen of the R&A roll in their graves each time there is a ‘get in the hole’ cry; it’s just not cricket!”

That might be true, but we still do not see the ire raised nearly half as much when it comes to other sports. Do we find these golf fans more irksome because they are often more audible? Or is it because many of those who shout these irrelevances admit to doing it simply because they “want to be heard”. One bloke once said that he once shouted “mashed potato” to alert his mother – watching on television – that he was in the crowd.

Perhaps, though, these annoyance that arise from fans shouting things at random and sometimes at players is somewhat more complex. These loudmouthed fans – you can hardly call them hooligans – have become a sort of proxy for everything the world detests about the Americans, especially in the era of Donald Trump.

We equate the oafish behaviour with the oaf that has come to personify American idiocy, without even knowing what the political leanings of the offending oafs might be. Just as Ryan Lochte’s oozing of privilege during the Olympics became a proxy for white male privilege, so these fans seem to embody – through a TV screen – everything we cannot stand about the Land of the Free. Whether that’s fair or not you’ll have to decide as you gallop on your high horse towards your ivory tower. DM

Photo: Fans around the first tee during the singles matches during the Ryder Cup 2016 at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, USA, 02 October 2016. The Ryder Cup 2016 runs from 29 September to 02 October. EPA/TANNEN MAURY

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